I’ve been a fan of Writer/Director Richard Bates Jr. since 2016 when I first saw his film Trash Fire during the Screamfest Film Festival. After that, I quickly devoured all of his previous films, where each one left its own special imprint. It’s easy to be drawn into his films because the characters always felt real and relatable like they could be your neighbor or your friend. But how Bates approached the dark corners of life always spoke to me in a way that few films have. That being said, it’s been almost two years since his last film. Now Bates is back with KING KNIGHT, a quirky film about a Wiccan coven and the journey of self-discovery.
KING KNIGHT introduces us to Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler), the High-Priest of a modern-day coven that he runs with his wife, the High-Priestess, Willow (Angela Sarafyan). Thorn and Willow have created a peaceful life with Thorn focusing his time on building and selling birdhouses and hoping one day to have a child with Willow. However, after Willow learns that Thorn has been hiding a dark secret, he must go on a journey of self-discovery in hopes that one day his beloved coven will take him back.
Compared to Bates’s last film Tone-Deaf, KING KNIGHT feels like a fresh detour that was much needed; and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Tone-Deaf was heavier and darker in terms of its themes and overall presentation, whereas KING KNIGHT is airy and light. The aesthetic is cozy, welcoming, and warm. The viewer should want to feel like they can be friends with these people. But it’s also noticeable that there is a ripple just beneath the surface. And once that ripple turns into a wave, it exposes the true nature of each person and the judgments they perceive onto others.
Transposing into the world of witchcraft is something many writers/directors attempt to do, with most failing or falling short. Too many times they rely on superficial tropes and archaic ideas centering around the oppression of women. However, in KING KNIGHT that’s not the case. The verbiage and rituals used were done with what seemed to be care, respect, and consideration for the Wiccan community. Additionally, Bates transformed the cliche witch trope by showcasing this Wiccan group as regular, normal people, like they are, instead of a disturbed individual looking to dance with the Devil.
There’s an air of closeness and friendship that encompasses this film and that, I believe, is part of the film’s success. Matthew Gray Gubler, who’s been in three other films by Bates, returns to play Thorn alongside Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan, who plays Willow. As for the coven itself, it features a mix of comedic talent from Andy Milonakis, Kate Comer, Nelson Franklin, Emily Chang, Johnny Pemberton, and Josh Faden with each performance having its own special flavor to enhance the dynamic between each couple within the coven. Gubler and Sarafyan are a match made by the mother goddess as each one leans into the strengths of the other, resulting in a climactic performance that feels connected from start to finish.
I can’t end this review without talking about the soundtrack. Bringing back composer Michl Britsch (Suburban Gothic), the soundtrack features Witch House artists such as Cr1mes, Alice Glass (who also has a cameo in the film), Sidewalks and Skeletons, and more. Each song is energizing and hypnotic especially during one animated sequence that’ll transport you to another planet. Now, I’m not saying you should partake in cannabis while watching this film, but if you were to do that, you are in for a blast with this scene. Aside from that wonderful experience, the soundtrack really helps in shaping the overall vibe of the film.
KING KNIGHT is a feel-good film about facing our past and moving forward with our own truth. It’s a film that can’t be defined by just one genre because it dips its toe in so many. It’s a fantastical story about self-discovery that features everything from a cameo by horror legend Barbara Crampton, pine cones and rocks, psychedelic imagery, and more. It’s a story that will take you on a personal journey and will hopefully leave you feeling upbeat and happy.
KING KNIGHT had its World Premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival on August 8, 2021.